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Leasing: Another Way To Go Solar

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Photo credit: Nat Blackford

Source: Nathaniel Blackford, Middlebury College

How can we possibly afford to go solar? 

Barb Wood has lived in her house in Middlebury since 1970. She first visited Vermont as a small child for summer camp and has loved it ever since: “I plan to stay. I don’t plan to move to Florida.” Her love for Vermont and concern for the environment led Barb and her sister to look into solar a few years ago. After some speaking with a local solar developer, she got discouraged:

“It would have cost us $70-80,000 to put in the number of solar panels that we have. We’re both retired and certainly comfortable but not well heeled. I didn’t have an extra $40,000 to put towards solar and I figured I was just going to let the next generation do it.”

Leasing - "It was a no brainer"

This changed when Barb had a conversation with a fellow member of St. Stephens Episcopal Church who had already put solar panels on her roof. This friend had leased the system through SunCommon. Neither Barb nor her sister had a south facing roof, so rooftop systems were out of the question. However, Barb did have a two-acre field behind her house which turned out to be suitable for solar.

After SunCommon evaluated the solar potential and the energy needs, they gave Barb a quote of the monthly lease payment. When she saw that it was about the same as her electricity bill and that she would own the panels after 20 years, she said the decision was easy: “It was a no brainer, why would you not do it?” SunCommon paid all the upfront costs for the panels and installation, including the costs of digging a trench to run the electric wires, and also got all the rebates. They also did all the paperwork and contacted all the neighbors. According to Barb, SunCommon made the process very simple. She said that the flat monthly lease payment was easier to plan for than a fluctuating energy bill.

What to do with the excess electricity we produce? 

The completed system features 36 panels and produces 11.7 kW of power. Barb and her sister have an agreement with Green Mountain power where excess energy they produce can be fed back into the grid in return for credits. This allows Barb to save up credits during the summer and use them in the winter when her solar panels are not producing as much electricity.

The panels were installed a little over two years ago and Barb says they are starting to get the power sharing figured out. Because the installation is closer to Barb’s house, her energy needs are met before her sister's. This can lead to her sister having to take electricity in from the grid. To compensate, Barb gives her sister more of the GMP credits earned by selling their extra solar power back to the grid. Energy credits can also be donated, and Barb says that once she gets the power sharing figured out she might donate some credits back to her church, St. Stephens.

When asked if she’d seen any changes in how she used energy since installing the panels, Barb said “Absolutely. I’ve always been conscious since the 1970’s when we had the first power crisis. I think I’ve been good…but I’m even more aware now. There’s an app on my phone which tells me exactly how much I’m using, exactly how much I’m generating, and I usually check that daily. I think I’ve cut my energy use down since the solar panels went in.”

If leasing isn't available, financing can accomplish the same thing

While SunCommon doesn’t offer the leasing program anymore, they do have an agreement with the local credit union to offer low interest loans that accomplish almost the same thing. Why should you go solar? Barb says “Why not? Isn’t it better for everyone if we use solar power as opposed to fuel oil?”

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